It's the way things often have to get done in the NFL when it comes to substantive changes to the game. It gets tried out for a year and then the following spring it again is brought before ownership for a yay/nay on making it permanent. Last year, the NFL owners took a one-year flyer on changing the point-after-touchdown rule, and after evaluating what it added to the game over the course of the 2015 season, a vote was taken this year, and that change now is permanent.
The 2016 NFL Owners Meetings concluded today in Boca Raton, Florida, and what came out of those sessions was some more of that, the dipping of the toes into the areas of player ejections and touchbacks on a one-year trial. The owners also voted to ban all chop blocks and expand the definition of what now will be an illegal horse-collar tackle.
"I think the rules changes we were in favor of got passed," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "The chop block got eliminated, so we were happy with that. From a rules perspective, we were happy with the way things turned out there."
In the try-it-for-a-season category, Rooney said he believes the new rule mandating any player getting two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in a game be ejected is a good one to have.
"There's a list of specific conduct in there that includes fighting, punching, those kinds of things, and that really was the issue," said Rooney, "to make sure that everybody was comfortable with the definition of the fouls that would be a part of the rule. It's actually just a specific list of conduct. There are three definitions of what would count."
According to reports, there was only one instance in all of 2015 where a player was flagged for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in a game. Rooney cites a statistic such as that to make the point this hasn't been a regular problem.
"I think it's something we needed to address," said Rooney. "We're still at a point where these kinds of things are relatively rare, so I'm not sure I would say it's a widespread problem. But it's a good rule to have, just in case. I think it can be addressed this way."
The new touchback rule is another in a series designed to forward the cause of player safety. From now on, kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks will have the offense starting from its own 25-yard line instead of the 20-yard line. That was given a one-year trial likely because there is not a consensus of whether this change actually will result in more, rather than fewer, returns.
"I don't know that we're heading in the direction of eliminating the kickoff," said Rooney, "but certainly, we are looking at the play and how we can make sure it's a safe play in the game."
Rooney addressed some other issues covered at these meetings:
The potential link between football and CTE:
"We had a presentation from our Health and Safety Committee, and there was a lot of discussion about research that we are doing and research that is being proposed that we're going to look at. So in a lot of different ways it was discussed, just in terms of how can we make the game safer and how do we try to prevent concussions during the plays. But in addition to that, how do we study the longer-term effects and make sure that we understand what the long-term effects are.
The NFL's thinking behind a game in China in 2018:
"In general, our International Committee is interested in taking the game to other countries and exposing fans in other parts of the world to the game. China, obviously, is one of the key countries in the world, in terms of development. So I think it's an effort to take our game somewhere to see how it's accepted by the fans in Asia, which is a little more of a challenge because of the distance. So that's something we'll have to address as time goes on. But I think it will be a good experiment."